Mumbai to have first-ever workshop to teach blind tennis

Updated: Feb 19, 2019, 11:23 IST | Pallavi Smart

Tennis camp is the brainchild of Ekinath Khedkar, 33, who is completely blind himself, but has a grand vision of India competing in the World Blind Tennis Championship

Mumbai to have first-ever workshop to teach blind tennis
Eknath Khedekar instructs one of the players

Can you play tennis with your eyes closed? Even the world's best players would be stumped to see how skillfully the blind play the game, tracking the speeding ball merely by sound, before smashing it back to the opponent's court accurately. If you want to see how they do it, Mumbai will have its first ever workshop this week to teach blind tennis, also called sound ball tennis due to the tinkling sound the specially adapted ball makes. The tennis camp is the brainchild of Ekinath Khedkar, 33, who is completely blind himself, but has a grand vision of India competing in the World Blind Tennis Championship. Khedekar first picked up the game himself as a postgrad student in the UK in 2015.

How it's played
Khedekar said, "I learned how to play sound ball tennis in London while pursuing my Masters degree as a Chevening Scholar in 2015. I was fascinated by the game. Persons with disabilities often get weighed down just fighting for a life with dignity, forgetting to enjoy life and its little pleasures. The idea is to listen to the jingling sound made by the ball, correctly anticipate its location and angle, and then strike it with the racquet, all while ensuring that neither your foot nor the ball crosses the line.

Khedekar picked up the game as a postgrad student in the UK in 2015; (right) several of Khedekar’s friends, including co-organiser Tony Kurian, have already learnt the sport during the weekend workshops he conducted for them
Khedekar picked up the game as a postgrad student in the UK in 2015; (right) several of Khedekar’s friends, including co-organiser Tony Kurian, have already learnt the sport during the weekend workshops he conducted for them

"As stunning as it may sound, sound ball tennis is played by about 12,000 visually challenged men and women around the world. This is the only multi-dimensional game played by blind. The sight of an airborne jingling sound ball being hit accurately by a totally blind person is a sight to behold. And when rallies occur, they are awe-inspiring." The specially adapted balls are made in Japan, and aren't easily available everywhere. They are also expensive. "While returning to India, I brought a dozen balls along with me. I first introduced the game to my friends so we could keep playing. Upon seeing their reaction, I realised that we need to take the sport to more people," said Khedekar, an alumnus of St Xavier's and Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai.

The camp
The workshop will begin on February 19, and run for three days at the courts of the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association. International trainers with years of experience in sound ball tennis will provide expert advice and coaching at the camp, organised in collaboration with the Indian Blind Sports' Association (IBSA). The free-of-cost workshop is the result of tireless work by Khedekar, his wife Kirti Kumar, who is a faculty member at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and his friend and IITian, Tony Kurian. Around 22 participants have been selected for the camp, with the aim of beginning preparations for India's maiden entry into the world championship being held in Spain, in June this year.

"There are generally very few sports opportunities for visually challenged persons. Some sports such as blind cricket have found some acceptance. A game like tennis has not even been experienced by visually challenged people in India. The idea of tennis being played by visually challenged people is still very foreign here, so we want more people to try it. We want to take it further and also provide good players with the opportunity to compete on international platforms," said Khedekar, who is a sustainability professional and inclusivity expert.

The competitive tournaments of sound ball tennis are played under the aegis of International Blind Tennis Association (IBTA), which regulates the game in its 18 member countries. India became a member nation only a few months ago, with the efforts of Khedekar, who works in the finance department of the association. He is confident of bringing the 2020 World Blind Tennis Championship to India, wherein about 180 players from 20-odd countries will participate.

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